Those Who Pay The Piper Control The Tune

According to one of the world’s most famous politicians, Frank Underwood “In politics you either eat the baby or you are the baby”. That statement is crucial for us as young South African voters, particularly with the approaching local government elections. The right to vote is not just about putting an ‘X’ on a ballot paper. It is (or should be) much broader than that; it is about critically interrogating our political systems, so as to ensure a stronger, accountable and transparent democracy. If we take such a holistic view on voting and our political system in general, we ensure that we don’t end up becoming blind mice; or the ‘baby’ in Frank Underwood’s analogy.

The filling up of stadia, the number of buses, the number of distributed party t-shirts, the number of artists performing at rallies and television adverts; all these seemed to characterise this year’s election campaigns. But have we ever asked ourselves where all this money comes from? Who is funding our political parties and why? This question was overlooked in the recent ‘state capture’ debate.

I am of the view that it is central to it because those who ascend to state power do so via political parties. Could it be then that it is not only the state that is captured, but our political parties as well? In South Africa political parties are funded by the public via the Independent Electoral Commission. This is governed by the Public Funding of Represented Political Parties Act (1997). According to this legislation, parties receive an allocated amount which is proportional to their size in the national assembly and provincial legislatures. This form of public funding is universal and most democracies have this model. The problem lies not in this model but in the private donations to political parties by individuals, companies and states.

Private donations are unregulated and are shrouded in secrecy. Not a single party in South Africa discloses its donors (yes even those that preach the transparency gospel). Why not? It is this secret space which undermines our democracy and lays fertile ground for corruption and patronage. Those who make large donations to political parties obviously do so with an expectation of a ‘return on investment’. That return might be a tender, it might be influence, and most dangerously it might be a tool to influence the state not to move towards a certain direction. This in essence means an unemployed 19-year old’s vote and that of a 60-year old multimillionaire party donor will not carry the same weight. This should not be the case, political parties are not businesses and our democracy is not for sale!

 Two organisations have challenged the status quo. First it was the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (IDASA), and recently My Vote Counts (MVC). Their plea to the Constitutional Court was for parliament to enact legislation to regulate private political donations. On a previous minority judgement Judge Edwin Cameron made the following remarks; 

“The right to vote does not exist in a vacuum. Nor does it consist merely of the entitlement to make a cross upon a ballot paper. It is neither meagre nor formalistic. It is a rich right – one to vote knowingly for a party and its principles and programmes. Voters have the right to vote for a political party, knowing how it will contribute to the country’s constitutional democracy and the attainment of its constitutional goals. Does this include knowing the private sources of political parties’ funding? It surely does.”

What is to be done? Do we burn more schools? Libraries and clinics demanding greater degrees of transparency in our political system? Do we stay away from the polls? Do we spoil our votes? Whatever direction we take, apathy is not and will never be the solution. We have a responsibility and a moral obligation to preserve and to protect our democracy because we are stakeholders in it. Ours is to make sure that we challenge those who want to be ‘steakholders’, and in our quest to achieve all these things we must not make the fundamental mistake of throwing the baby out with the bath water. 

Info: Prince Charles is part of the ACTIVATE! Change Drivers’ Network.

ACTIVATE! Change Drivers is a network of more than 2000 young change makers or“Activators” across South Africa who are finding innovative ways to transform their communities and the country as a whole.

Activators Lead Main Mandela Day Celebrations

Eastern Cape Activator & provincial representative Phikolomzi Habe and several prominent national and international icons led the main preparations for the 2016 Nelson Mandela Day Celebrations in Qunu on the 17th of July 2016.

Among other key tasks  Habe’s role was to facilitate the screening as well as the question and answer plenary session (post screening) of a globally acclaimed South African inspirational film titled “Themba – A Boy Called Hope”. The film deals with the tenacity of not just conquering HIV stereotypes but building a great sport (football) career from a deep rural Eastern Cape area.

The infotainment event aim was to honour and remember the late Nelson Mandela’s tireless fight against HIV and AIDS and inspire youth to dream big even in the midst of adversity. Other Eastern Cape provincial representative Lusanda Yose and Activator Zenande Mtwesi were offered an opportunity to do short presentations about the ACTIVATE Network. 

The event was supported by United National aligned HIV and AIDS fighting organization Pro Test HIV, mobile modern solar supported educational motion and picture institution Sunshine Cinemas (led by young people Boyzn Bucks, Lufefe Figlan, Mandy Mbekeni, Khanya Khanyisa Mpahlwa, Yolanda Rachel Sihlali, Rowan Pybus, Sydelle Willow Smith and Lindani Gumede) and continental youth mental consciousness organization, Africa Rising which is led by  Ndaba Mandela. While addressing the attendees, Habe said that an HIV and AIDS-free society was one of many dreams that the former President fought for – even during his retirement stage. “If there is anything that all young people should always remember about the late global icon for his ethical leadership traits and principles”, said Habe, who is already discussing groundbreaking HIV and AIDS collaborative initiative concept with UNAIDS. 

In his closing remarks, the Eastern Cape provincial representative quoted late President Mandela’s famous quote about ways of fighting the HIV and AIDS stigma. “Where people of goodwill get together and transcend their differences for the common good, peaceful and just solutions can be found even for those problems which seem most intractable. Let us give publicity to HIV/AIDS and not hide it, because the only way to make it appear like a normal illness like TB, like cancer, is always to come out and say that  somebody has died because of HIV/AIDS, and people will stop regarding it as something extraordinary.” said Habe 
On the same day, prominent American billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates  delivered the 14th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture at the University of Pretoria’s Mamelodi campus.  Fighting HIV transmission and youth development were some of the key issues Gates tackled during his speech.  He pleaded with all Africans to do everything within their power right now to help them build the future that Nelson Mandela dreamed of.

While addressing the fight for HIV transmission prevention, he said “Almost half of the people living with HIV are undiagnosed. So we need more creative ways to make testing and treatment accessible and easier to use. It’s clear to everyone how big and complicated the challenges are. But it’s just as clear that people with bravery, energy, intellect, passion, and stamina can face big, complicated challenges and overcome them. If we fail to act, all the hard-earned gains made in HIV in sub-Saharan Africa over the last 15 years could be reversed, particularly given that Africa’s young people are entering the age when they are most at risk of HIV.
Famous philanthropist and founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, agrees with the late Nelson Mandela that young people are capable, when aroused, of bringing down the towers of oppression and raising the banners of freedom. “I agree with Mandela about young people, and that is one reason I am optimistic about the future of this continent. Our duty is to invest in young people, to put in place the basic building blocks so that they can build the future. And our duty is to do it now, because the innovations of tomorrow depend on the opportunities available to children today”, said Gates as he delivered a Nelson Mandela lecture at the University of Pretoria on the 17th of July, the eve of Mandela Day and the launch of the 2016 International AIDS conference. 

Former  South African first lady, Graça Machel , South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, Hollywood Actress, Charlize Theron, United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, Sir Elton John and Prince Harry, South African Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi , South African Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Jeff Radebe Were some of the prominent global people who have tackled the HIV and AIDS during this Mandela Month. 

PRESS RELEASE: The New Youth Struggle

With the upcoming local elections building momentum and encouraging a national dialogue on the feet of the 40th Youth Day anniversary; there has been an evident rise of youth participation within local governance.

Active citizenry has been the topic of interest for citizens from all walks of life recently. Through this ‘enlightened’ mindset change, South African youth are now making it their mission to be involved in the building of THEIR communities and country.

Through networks such as ACTIVATE! the youth are realizing their potential and learning how it is that they can have a positive impact in their local government. The network is made up over 2000 young people that are serious about bringing about change all over South Africa. As a collective they are motivating each other to innovate, inform and be the positive spark to those around them. Active citizenry is highly encouraged by ACTIVATE!, this has seen a number of young people standing for the upcoming elections.  

“As a teacher, I want to educate the younger generation on how local government works. I want to encourage them to get involved so that they can make sure that the most important issues are addressed.” Tumelo Lephogole, Student teacher, North West.

Driven by the motivating slogan; ‘For the youth by the youth’, activators from remote parts of the country are leading by example through highlighting that leadership should prioritize delivering on the promises that are made to communities during campaigning. A new era of accountable leadership is on the rise.

“Through our vast network of youths committed to change, we at ACTIVATE have seen a growing amount young South Africans actively contributing towards crafting the ideal society that they would like to live in,” says Nelisa Ngqulana, ACTIVATE! Communications Manager. “We are so pleased to see a group of our activators running for office in the upcoming elections, as that shows a great sense of responsibility and commitment to driving change”.

From civil servants to entrepreneurs, activators are putting their passion to good use through creating synergies that would best serve the communities that they live in. Be it through the Arts, Education of Sports, activators are highlighting basic community needs through positively showcasing local governance decay through at time providing self-funded solutions. Through networks such as ACTIVATE! youths are provided with a platform where they can interact and share their common challenges and achieved successes.

Anzani Tshifheya from Venda, identified herself as a Community builder. Through support provided by ACTIVATE!  she is mobilizing change in her community through sports. ‘Riakona Sports, Arts and Culture Events’ is a project that I initiated with my sister. We are currently at the process of sourcing sponsorship so that libraries and sports centers can be built in our village,” she says. “It is simple things such as ensuring that they are adequate facilities that provide remote communities much-needed moral and sense of importance. If the government is unable to reach us, it is our responsibility to ensure that we act on what we want”.

ACTIVATE! has 82 observers across nine provinces, and six network members running for office in the upcoming municipal elections representing different political parties. In the running is also an independent candidate.



Social Media

Twitter: @ActivateZA

Facebook: Activate! Change Driver


ACTIVATE! is a network of young leaders equipped to drive change for the public good across South Africa. Connecting youth who have the skills, sense of self and spark to address tough challenges and initiate innovative and creative solutions that can reshape our society.


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Lila Silwana On Access To Education

What is your passion?

I am passionate about youth development and education. I believe that as young people we need to create our own opportunities, and education is the door to such.

What are you excited about lately?

I am excited about the Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI) programme that I was part of this year. I was part of the 3rd cohort programme in civic leadership. I believe that being part of this has transformed me and I am mostly excited about the information I am taking back to my community.

Share with us what you do, how much impact you have had and how long you have been doing it?

I work with Help-a-Student, which is a youth-based NGO in the Eastern Cape. The program targets grade 11 and 12 learners, together with university students to ensure that they have access to information. We also look closely at enhancing young people’s leadership and advocacy skills; we look at the human rights injustices in their communities and assist them in advocacy and mobilising for change.  We have touched more than 2000 young people in more than 20 Schools. Help-a-Student has been running since 2013.

Why do you believe in the work that you do?

I believe that the work that I do is transforming the lives of young people. Most of the time young people are not given the chance to be their own inspiration and create their own opportunities. Help-a-Student allows them the opportunity to craft their own future through education. This is why I believe in the work that I do, as I have seen how young people’s mind-sets change just by being in the program. I get inspired to work even harder when I see young people willing to work hard no matter what their background is.

How do you connect with Activators and those around you?

We have frequent meetings, and we use Social Media to connect. We also support each other’s Initiatives.

How has ACTIVATE! Supported you so far in driving this change?

Through ACTIVATE! I have found a new family.  I now have people who understand and care about the work that I do. The sessions are a glimpse of hope to people like me and I think being in the program has expanded my networks in a manner that I could not have imagined. It has also improved the impact of the work that I am doing.

What do you think is the priority in setting the agenda for our country in the next 5 years?

We need to look closely at human rights and the implementation of human rights laws and policies. I think there is a foundation of all the aspects we can look into if young people are part of the implementation of human rights and the responsibility that comes with such. This would prove that we have young leaders who will drive change and all social ills will be resolved with time. We need to develop new leaders with such understanding.

How do you motivate yourself?

I look at the work I have been doing all this time and that gives me willpower to continue. I also look at my role model, Judy Silwana (my mother), who is also in the same field as I am. Seeing the work she has been doing drives me to doing even better.

Final message to young people?

The world is in your hands. Create the future you deserve and never let temporary failure stop you from creating the world you deserve.

Education through Performing Arts

The Youth of 1976 fought for a noble course: agitating for the change in conditions of young people and selflessly dedicating their lives in favor of the nation. Their struggle was not about self-enrichment but for total emancipation of young people from chains of poverty and the web of being taught by the language they did not understand. Schools, libraries and churches were meeting points that were used as a plenary for the strategies to weaken the apartheid regime. With all these events, the entertainment industry played an important role in spreading the message and fuelling the fighting spirit of freedom fighters. Concerts were used as platforms to organise and mobilise the nation.

Typical of this heroic generation, Activators in Ntuzuma echo the youth of 1976 through their Ubuciko Bomlomo Infotainment (UBI) project. UBI empowers young people with performing arts skills; with a mission to promote and uplift the local talent by spreading information through entertainment and promoting youth engagements in the community of Ntuzuma and around the area. When young people in many corners of our country yearn for parties on weekends, these Activators gather young people to showcase their talents in performing arts, to speak openly about social issues and they encourage collective response when addressing them. “UBI plays an important role in gathering young people in one place for a good cause. Being part of UBI is fulfilling, and it means that I am playing significant role in bringing change within my community” said 2015 Activator and a leader of UBI, Mlungisi Zuma.

2013 Activator Slindelo Lokishi Martin shares similar sentiments.  He says that young people’s lives are changed and their world-view widens through them participating in these weekly gatherings. “UBI plays a huge role in the lives of young people of Ntuzuma Township, and this is evident even to me as the leader.  We are doing something that has never been done before and this sparks initiative to young people from neighbouring communities to start doing something. We INSPIRE. UBI welcomes everyone regardless of gender or socio-economic background. As a young person growing up in Ntuzuma life was very difficult but ever since I founded UBI, I know I’ve got another family”. Martin adds that the youth involved in the program are fully committed and hardly miss sessions, and this could be because the sessions shape ideological outlook and encourage the spirit of togetherness. .

These Activators understand that education plays a major role in changing conditions and that any good cause must also weigh-in in the struggle of  widening opportunities for young people who wish to advance their education. Through this, UBI recently launched an initiative called Road to University Mentorship Programme (RUMP), targeting mainly Grade 12 learners and assisting them  with their university preparations by making sure they receive early mentorship on how to and when to apply for university admission, study loans ,bursaries and scholarships.

The programme works closely with career guidance from various institutions like the Durban University of Technology (DUT), the University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN), University of South Africa (UNISA), University of Zululand (UNIZULU) and Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT). With all these institutions on board, the UBI team is positive that the number of students applying in universities will increase massively.

“Many young people in KZN townships don’t have access to universities; not because they don’t qualify, but because they simply don’t know the processes involved when applying for Higher Education, or financial assistance thereof. Some simply end up in the wrong career route because of insufficient career guidance. This programme is to ensure that we produce quality prospective students for universities who are ready for everything”, added 2013 Activator Nhlanhla Mkwanazi, who is part of the RUMP programme.

When young people were unaware of their conditions, when they thought their conditions would never change, artists, through music and poetry, made them conscious of their struggle and possibilities. In many cases, art has proved organise the unorganised. Ntuzuma Activators, though UBI embody the spirit of these fallen martyrs.

Education, performing arts, and consciousness are firm ground for these Activators.


Fathering Our Childhoods

Please introduce yourself.

I was born 22 years ago to the Ngubo family. I was raised by my mother’s family in a small township with my cousins who I consider to be my siblings. We were raised by our grandmother, but I later started boarding school. It was in boarding school that I discovered myself and began to know who I was: an introvert with big dreams. I then realised family was not necessarily blood relatives, but rather who you have strong relations with.

 What do you consider to be your field of passion/expertise?

Kids. I have a huge passion for kids. I have seen the life in townships and how [growing up] we lacked role models. I refused to give in to ‘Kasi’ stereotypes of young people amounting to nothing or we all end up in the streets. My passion for kids stems from wanting to inspire them to break the stereotype. I have seen most of my friends conform to the township life – delinquency.

 What change are you keen to drive?

I want to break away from the idea that men cannot love; to set an example for young boys so they may be able to show affection towards their kids and others. I want us to constantly improve ourselves as men, and not let the tradition that our fathers have lay down to describe us; we need become the best fathers to our kids. This could be the solution to young girls who seek love from old men as a substitute to the lack of love from their fathers. Love is one of the things we lack; money is what we chase and at the expense of our kids’ love.

 How are you driving change?

I started out by visiting schools in Gugulethu, with an intention to get closer and to build a relationship with the kids. Now I work with Siyazinga, Amy Beihl Foundation, HisKidz and youth at SAIIA. I use sport as a tool to engage with the kids; either physical education at school or swimming socials outside of school. This gives them the ability to see other places and be exposed to a different environment outside of the township. We also tutor and have after school programs for the kids, which focuses on improving their academic performance.

How has ACTIVATE! supported you so far in driving this change?

Activate has introduced me to other young people who have the same passion as myself. They are about bringing change. This space has allowed to learn how to improve myself as a person and how to get involved with my community.

What do you think is the priority in setting the agenda for our country in the next 5 years?

We are country with great documentation of democracy on paper but when it comes to action we are lacking. Currently our country is known for making promises but not delivering. We need transformation and change. This means setting an agenda that will allow us to measure and implement change.

Tell us more about your role and work as a mentor to the learners you work with?

My role is to be there for them whether academically or socially. I have built incredible bonds with the kids and their families. I support and help them improve their confidence and see that there is more to life. I try to have career and personal talks intertwined so the kids can know that they can both live and dream big.

Final comment?

Before you go out and be a hero, heal yourself. How can you help someone else when you’re still fixing?

The BREXIT view, a Cow Herders Opinion

Ahh Britain, the birthplace of The Beatles and world’s Ringo, as John Oliver pointed out. Brexit is the new word on the street but is it worth the weight and scare it is linked with? “The feeling amongst many people my age is that David Cameron left a decision that could devastate a nation in the hands of people who largely didn’t understand it. I think that the biggest failure of the referendum was the information people received, there was no unbiased facts for the Brexit which left people confused and unable to trust ‘experts’. As a student and a youth of Great Britain, I feel let down that a country would vote in such haste and narrow minded way. I truly hope that all voters made an educated vote with their future generation in mind, and were not steered by any other factor.” Those were the words and feelings of Alice Beckett, a History of Arts graduate from the prestigious Oxford Brookes University who was interning South Africa during the historical referendum. Clearly outlining the concern that Brexit was more of a disgruntled old guard move rather than one to secure Britain’s future.

The European Union was formed after World War II as a kiss-and- make up publicity stunt by 28 nations and has over the years transformed into an economic powerhouse. Granted like any household it has had its fair share of sibling rivalry with Britain always being the Liverpool fan of the family; case in point is refusing to use the Euro as official currency – ditto Liverpool refusing to win a league title. There has always been debate around Britain’s independence from the EU chains, which is quite ironic really given that the UK has single-handedly managed to chain most of the world with past colonial rule. The images post the vote of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson left me, to use the Queen’s language correctly, flabbergasted “Free at last… this is our Independence Day”. I didn’t quite know if they had watched one too many Dr MLK videos or if they were just quoting the 54 (-1) Commonwealth countries that had actually celebrated Independence from British colonial rule.

David Cameron who had called for the vote was left egg in face, with no choice but to call it quits. England manager, Roy Hogson, following suit 3 days later after slipping on some ice in France – and is now also facing a potential split in the Kingdom as Scotland and Northern Ireland look to leave for a return to the EU. The EU is also quite torn up with the breakup as the situation has led to many other European nations considering their position but the most concerning point of the exit is the fiscal impact on both sides. The argument from the pro-leavers was that Britain contributed £350 Million/week (actually £190 Million/week) to the EU which was money that could be used to boost the National Health Service; post the vote Farage said it would be difficult to apply those changes (HA!), now Britain may have to instead exercise more fiscal muscle to access EU markets. Also the EU will need to find a way to cover the huge gap that is left in its budget as Britain made up 5% of the total EU budget.

So where does this leave the Commonwealth Nations and most importantly South Africa? After the vote the Rand fell to its lowest since 2008 in emerging markets, with a 11.5% plunge against the Yen and 7.6% weaker against the Dollar, granted the Pound has been at its weakest it has been in over 30 years against the Dollar which is some good news but no better than no news. South Africa is the UK’s 4th largest trade partner, the forecasted “technical recession” for Britain may result in a decrease in trade and investment which would not bode well for our economy. We barely dodged the junk status bullet from the ratings agencies who are never in a good mood, and with the economic growth forecasted at just 0.6% for 2016, we might have to keep holding our noses and tightening our belts as we keep swimming in it. Also impacted will be the 0.7% of the Gross National Income (GNI) which Britain has allocated for developmental aid, it may keep its current commitments but any future deals may be thwarted. The EU as well with a budget dent may review its contributions to aid in Africa and developing parts of the world. Another key argument in the referendum was around immigration. Most Africans either in the UK or looking to get into the UK are concerned about their status (we might be least of Britain or the EU’s worry as all the rage is mostly about EU immigrants). The immigration policy is bound to change and controls might get tighter but there are murmurs that to boost trade relations with some African countries the UK could make immigration for Commonwealth citizens easier, with the IMF predicting that by 2019 the Commonwealth will contribute more to the world economic output than the EU.

There is good news as the uncertainty has put smiles on those in the gold mining sector with prices soaring, but that’s the only short term kickback (not really – with the destabilising, volatile mining industry in SA). No one is sure of what the landscape will look like when the dust settles but one thing is for certain:  Africa and its people, its youth must now choose to either rise and pick up what’s left of their nations, or wait for another hero to emerge from the fog. Thomas Sankara highlighted the potential of an aid-free country, the counter-productiveness of the free trade movement (free to who?) and the power of nation building using passion for own. Heroes are not always from afar, the fear from the West shouldn’t be adopted to be our fear, it should be transformed into opportunity. Brexit maybe the global “Afr-enter”.

  • By Bhongolwethu Sonti (with the help of Alice Beckett, information from Reuters, BBC Africa, Eye Witness News and John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” Show)

Bongolwethu is a member of the ACTIVATE! Change Drivers’ network of more than 2 000 young Change-makers in South Africa who are seeking to transform their communities and the country. For more information, visit He is a youth and community development activist passionate about the African continent. Proud to represent  Greenpop, Mjoli Connect and a member of the United Nations Population Fund South Africa Youth Advisory Panel and the International Youth Council.